By Bob Allen
President Obama asked the private sector and nonprofit organizations – including houses of worship and other faith-based institutions – to join the government in a national conversation about mental health in the United States during a daylong White House conference June 3.
“Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help,” Obama said at a White House-sponsored National Conference on Mental Health.
“We need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health,” the president said.
Attended by advocates, elected officials, faith leaders and others, the conference featured unveiling of a new website — mentalhealth.gov — aimed at providing resources for those suffering from mental illness and sharing success stories from those who’ve received treatment.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden planned the conference as part of the administration’s plan to reduce gun violence, which calls on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness of mental health.
Recognizing the task is too large for the government to do alone, the White House highlighted dozens of commitments from private groups that help raise awareness, teach students and educators about mental health, give health care providers tools they need, combat stigma and encourage conversation.
The White House said numerous faith groups across the country have committed to launch new conversations on mental health by taking a variety of steps. Congregations pledged to include a message about mental health in sermons and bulletin inserts. Others are developing and disseminating resources to help members continue the conversation outside of worship services. Religious bodies are also organizing sessions on mental health awareness at upcoming national conferences.
Denominations and faith groups that are pledging to take action in their community as part of a national dialogue include the National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated; Progressive National Baptist Convention and Interfaith Network on Mental Illness, a group formed in 2007.
Those attending the conference included Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, managing director of resource development for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, who welcomed the dialogue.
“We need a new conversation about mental health services and supports,” Ramsey-Lucas said, “one that addresses the stigma of mental illness that too often prevents persons from seeking treatment.”
Ramsey-Lucas encouraged Baptists to make use of “Grounded in Faith: Resources on Mental Health and Gun Violence,” a compendium of resources compiled by the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies, a coalition member, links to the April report on the ABHMS website.
Formed in 1832, American Baptist Home Mission Societies is the domestic mission arm of American Baptist Churches USA. Its ministries and programs include church planting, disaster response, discipleship and Christian education, evangelism and justice ministries such as children in poverty, disability and immigration.